Pa. officials get Willow Grove insurance broker to take down 'Health Exchange' website
Taunya English and Elle Pfeffer | 07.25.13
Consumer advocates and federal health officials say they're on the lookout for Affordable Care Act scams and opportunists.
At 3:22pm on Tuesday, the "Pennsylvania Health Exchange" website (pahealthexchange.com), run by private insurance broker Allen Heffler, featured the state seal of Pennsylvania.'
This week, WHYY/NewsWorks has been monitoring a website from a health insurance broker in Willow Grove that could have easily been confused for a government site.
On Tuesday, PAhealthexchange.com featured a logo that looked a lot like the Seal of Pennsylvania. The website said "Welcome to the Pennsylvania Health Exchange!" a "hub for all your health insurance needs."
The state seal vanished by Tuesday afternoon, but the website remained. A day later, the entire site disappeared. Scroll down to the bottom of the page to see images of the site.
Willow Grove insurance broker Allen Heffler is behind the website. He said a state Insurance Department official called him and said the site was causing confusion.
Listen to the story:
"I shut it down immediately," Heffler said.
Heffler has a separate business website under his own name. In several places online, he lists his business address and uses his image to market himself.
On the PAhealthexchange.com site, a phone number led visitors to Heffler, but his name and picture were not included.
Pennsylvania Insurance Department spokeswoman Melissa Fox says the state's enforcement bureau reviewed PAhealthexchange.com, then called Heffler.
"We expressed our concerns that using the seal was misleading and could be misrepresented that the site is operated by, connected with or endorsed by the commonwealth," Fox said in an email statement.
"This site was none of those things and subsequently taken down. We do not believe that this individual acted maliciously or purposely tried to dupe consumers," Fox said.
Heffler explained why he launched the site: "Initially, we really wanted the website to be for people to get information about the future health insurance marketplaces, and eventually help facilitate people with the purchase of health insurance."
The federal government is setting up the official, one-stop, online health insurance exchange—or shopping marketplace—for Pennsylvania. It is the only place that residents can apply for ObamaCare tax credits and subsidies.
Consumer health advocates say they've been bracing for attempts to divert people from the official shopping marketplace.
The government will set up the official online health insurance exchange.
When Ann Bacharach with the Pennsylvania Health Law Project reviewed Heffler's site, she alerted officials at the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Bacharach said she wanted to nudge the federal officials to get the word out about the official exchange site.
"What I was suggesting to colleagues at CMS is that perhaps they want to run some Google ads," she said. "When you google Pennsylvania Health Exchange, you don't get any information on the wonderful Healthcare.gov site," Bacharach said.
Insurance brokers—such as Heffler—will have a role linking people with health plans once open enrollment begins in October, but federal officials have not widely discussed how that will work.
In an email, a spokesman with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said the administration is focused, this summer, on outreach and education—including helping people know what to do when they suspect fraud.
TIPS FOR THE SMART HEALTH INSURANCE CONSUMER
By Elle Pfeffer
Navigating the Affordable Care Act is complex enough, but consumers also should beware of fake plans and opportunists looking to prey on confused buyers.
Melissa Fox, deputy press secretary at the Pennsylvania Insurance Department, offered some tips for weeding through scams to get the best coverage possible.
Check your sources
Consult this database of all the agents and insurance companies licensed by Pennsylvania.
Be wary of these situations
- My broker says the premiums will increase tomorrow and I should buy now. A pushy agent or broker who makes up excuses for you to make an immediate decision may not be trustworthy.
- The insurance plan I'm looking at costs 10 percent to 20 percent less than other similar plans. A much lower rate for insurance premiums should send a red flag about that provider.
- I want to get in touch with my agent on the phone, but can't find the number. Agents and insurance companies should be easily available.
More specific answers about the government's health insurance marketplace.
This article courtesy of WHYY/NewsWorks.